By Robert Ainley
Police say they are treating an arson attack on a memorial recognising the contribution of Jewish soldiers in the World Wars as a hate crime.
It is understood at around 1.30am on Thursday morning, two containers of flammable liquid were set alight next to the memorial at the junction of Beverley Street and Northumberland Street.
The memorial relates the history of Colonel John Henry Patterson, from Co Westmeath, who had a distinguished war record and notably led the Zion Mule Corps, dubbed "the first Jewish fighting force in nearly two millennia" who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War.
It also incorporates a panel highlighting Patterson's links to the Jewish state and a quotation from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describing him as "the godfather of the Israeli Army".
Speaking to UTV, Pastor Paul Burns, from the Adullam Christian Fellowship in the Sandy Row area of Belfast, said he was saddened by the attack, which he believed was anti-Semitic.
Pastor Burns, who has Jewish heritage, said it was particularly upsetting, coinciding with a deadly attack in a Tel Aviv market, that left four Israelis dead.
He said Belfast's small Jewish community had been "deeply hurt, deeply alarmed" by the incident.
William Humphrey, a DUP MLA for the area said the attack was "clearly designed to raise tensions," coming as it did, on the back of several instances of vandalism of a war memorial in Woodvale Park.
He said the memorial was "welcomed in the community, in Shankill, but also by the Jewish community as it showed the historic links between Belfast and Israel".
Mr Humphrey called for calm and said those behind the attacks "need to take a long look at themselves," as "those whom the memorial commemorates have done a great service to freedom and democracy".
A police spokesman has appealed for anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone who has any information to contact officers at Tennent Street on 101.
Alternatively, information can be passed anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.